How have the 2012 doomsday myths become part of our accepted lexicon?

Oct 23, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson
Did the Mayans really predict a doomsday event?

The whole "December 21st, 2012 Doomsday" hype had pretty much fallen off my radar. I hadn't received an email from a concerned or fearful person for months and no one had alerted me to any new breathlessly hyped end-of-the-word videos for quite some time. Optimistically, I began to think that the Mayan-Prophecy-Pole-Shift-Nibiru (et. al) nonsense was just a passing fad.

But, somehow it seems, doomsday hype has made it into the public's psyche. I recently saw a local newscast that mentioned the world would be ending soon, albeit jokingly, and sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines. But a couple of recent polls say that 10-12% of people have doubts they will survive past Dec. 21st of this year. And a few conversations I've had with those who have been on the front lines of debunking the 2012 doomsday predictions reveal that an upcoming "end of the world" is somehow very real for a measurable segment of the population.

How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?

Dr. David Morrison has been answering the public's questions on the 2012 predictions for over five years on 's "Ask and Astrobiologist" page on the Astrobiology website. Even after all the information Morrison and other NASA scientists have made available debunking the doomsday myths and providing real scientific reasoning, Morrison said he still steadily receives 5-6 emails every day from people asking if the world will end in December.

"These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government," Morrison said in an interview for a podcast for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy. "It is very hard to get through to them. These are people who… get their information from the internet," (and You Tube videos and History Channel documentaries, Morrison later added.) "And among the kids, the information just passes from person to person. I'd like to think that the things I've posted and the videos I've made help, but a lot of people just don't get it."

And some people don't want to get it.

"They are so invested this," Morrison said, "with their books and websites and videos," and when Dec. 22 rolls around, they may not want to admit they've either been part of the hoax or taken in by a hoax. They may end up changing the goalposts by saying they were off by a couple of months or years, like many of the failed end-of-the-word predictions have done.

Bill Hudson, who helps maintain the 2012Hoax website – a site that offers scientific information of why the world won't end and a forum for people to express their concerns – says he has seen a steady uptick in traffic to the website in recent months and he anticipates there will be a surge ahead of December 21st.

"Most of the astronomical claims are easily dismissed, but a lot of our visitors have apparent anxiety issues, and the 2012 rumors set those off," Hudson said. "So they realize intellectually that it is bunk, but emotionally they struggle to get past it."

For example one woman has written in for the past few years in a constant up and down cycle of first feeling fears for herself and her child, then feeling calm when reading information on the 2012Hoax site, but then falling back into fear if she watches a new You Tube video hyping doomsday, or if she sees a big star in the sky she thinks she hasn't seen before (it usually end up being Venus.)

Unfortunately, Hudson said, there are more people like this, who just can't get past their fears.

Ian O'Neill producer of Discovery Space News and former Universe Today writer who authored a series of articles for UT debunking the 2012 doomsday myths says that he's also witnessed how the "Mayan doomsday" has worked itself into society's lexicon.

As an example, O'Neill shared via email a story of a person next to him at the gym watching TV reports of the recent swarm of earthquakes south of LA:

"The guy watching the TV next to me asked what was going on—I said that it was a USGS press conference to discuss the mini quakes. He responded with 'Yeah, it's not long until the world ends, we're bound to be seeing more of this kind of thing.' A little taken aback, I questioned him on it (thinking he was joking) and he was positive that the world was really going to end and that he'd seen "videos on YouTube" about it. No matter what I said to him, his view was that he'd rather be safe than sorry—he'd stocked up on fuel and water."

O'Neill said he's found that among the public, stories of doomsday are generally accepted. "Some people know that it's all crap, but others are totally convinced that it's real," he said. "It's really sad that, after I've written countless articles on the topic and appeared on several news shows and documentaries communicating the real science, people are still out there needlessly worried, happy to believe a badly edited YouTube video over science and reason."

The real unfortunate effect here is that children are being caught up by these doomsday predictions, whether by adults in their lives who are buying into the hype or by having access to websites and videos that purport to have the "real" truth and answers.

Hudson says the 2012Hoax site has been receiving a constant stream of questions from children who are fearful, and Morrison said many of the emails he gets are from children. There are at least two documented cases of young people committing suicide from their fears of the world ending, and Morrison shared a story from a teacher he knows where parents of two children in her class have come to her saying the families plans to commit suicide so they don't suffer in the end times coming up.

This is almost more than anyone involved in debunking these doomsday myths can bear. Morrison called the people propagating the myths "evil."

"These are evil people, whether consciously or unconsciously whose main effect is to frighten children," he said. "I think it is a terrible thing."

Morrison, Hudson and O'Neill said they all hope Dec. 21 can come and go without anyone else taking drastic actions that are completely unnecessary.

Asked what he will be doing on Dec. 22, Morrison said all he really hopes is that this whole subject will be dropped, never to be heard from again.

"I've never dealt with anything like this before and I hope I never have to deal with it again," he said.

Explore further: New anthology offers comprehensive insight into the life and works of Margaret Thatcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA scientist: No Doomsday in 2012

Oct 20, 2009

According to NASA scientist David Morrison, the widespread Internet rumor that the world will end in 2012 due to some astronomical event is a hoax. Dr. Morrison attributes the hype to 'cosmophobia' fueled ...

NASA on crusade to debunk 2012 apocalypse myths

Nov 09, 2009

The world is not coming to an end on December 21, 2012, the US space agency insisted Monday in a rare campaign to dispel widespread rumors fueled by the Internet and a new Hollywood movie.

11/11/11: Anthropologist debunks doomsday myths

Nov 03, 2011

University of Kansas anthropologist and Maya scholar John Hoopes and his students are watching predicted doomsday dates such as 11/11/11 and Dec. 21, 2012, with considerable skepticism.

Caresses enjoyable vicariously, too

Oct 17, 2011

It is well-known that we humans enjoy sensual caresses, but the brain reacts just as strongly to seeing another person being caressed, reveals research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, ...

Recommended for you

James Watson's Nobel Prize to be auctioned

Nov 25, 2014

Missed the chance to bid on Francis Crick's Nobel Prize when it was auctioned off last year for $2.27 million? No worries, you'll have another chance to own a piece of science history on Dec. 4, when James D. Watson's 1962 ...

Engineers develop gift guide for parents

Nov 21, 2014

Faculty and staff in Purdue University's College of Engineering have come up with a holiday gift guide that can help engage children in engineering concepts.

User comments : 35

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2012
In two words: "Critical Thinking." Some people are good at it, and some are not. Those who are not are still motivated, many by the need for attention. The media (both traditional media an eMedia) attract people who crave attention, and it is no secret that sensational claims attract attention.
They make sensational claims to get attention, and uncritical thinkers pay attention.
Come December 22nd, 2012, I'll be hosting an "Another Great Disappointment" party - with Millerite Beer.
LariAnn
2.3 / 5 (12) Oct 23, 2012
Throughout 2012, I've told folks from time to time that the worst doom that could possibly happen by Dec. 21 (for those who believe that 2012 is the doomsday year) is that nothing happens at all. That being said, and as a scientist by training, I am disappointed that so much of so-called real science is replete with presumptions, suppositions and outright speculation passed off as fact or reality, especially when it comes to astronomy, cosmology and the origin of life. What is considered reasonable is what is in conformity with the consensus point of view, is it not?

@tadchem - I'll celebrate with you, only I'll be having gin and tonic!
freethinking
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 23, 2012
The best and most biblical way to determine when the world will end is to find a date no one believes the world will end,then you will be assured that on that day, the world will end. :)
DavidW
1.8 / 5 (15) Oct 23, 2012
.........Morrison called the people propagating the doomsday myths "evil."

People are not evil. People are human animals. Kick and beat a dog and it will probably behave differently. Give a dog rabies and it will probably behave differently too. The behavior change does not make the dog evil. We, as human animals, are no different.
The most important thing in life is life. Therefore we are human animals that are important, so long as we live. That's the truth.
Morrison should seek truth himself before attempting to guide others. He is attempting to replace the problems of sickness and paranoia in others with different sick delusions of truthful reality. Swapping one problem for another is common mistake.

'Any activism not rooted in Devine truth will only perpetrate the problem it is trying to solve.' – Andrew Harvey

Jotaf
5 / 5 (10) Oct 23, 2012
Logical inconsistencies everywhere. Even buying into the premise, why the hell would that guy need "fuel and water" if the world ends? If the world really ends he's dead.
TrinityComplex
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
You'll all be sorry when the world really does end, just like it did on new years, 2000, and 2001, and 11/11/11, 01/01/01, and 06/06/06, or when it ended those times when various celestial bodies aligned. Or, um, on Tuesday, because the world ends on Tuesdays at least twice a month.

Actually, the number of 'end of the world' days listed on Wikipedia is rather entertaining: http://en.wikiped...he_world

@Tadchem, the 'Another Great Disappointment' party is a fantastic idea, though to make sure it's not a torture party I would probably have non-disappointing beer that the guests can drink on the condition that they first 'taste the disappointment'... Yeah, I have to borrow the idea, but I'll be sure to give you credit. Thanks.

@Jotaf, in many scenarios, it's more a global catastrophe, rather than the actual complete destruction of the world. 'End' is used rather loosely.
A2G
2.3 / 5 (12) Oct 23, 2012
The real prophecies call for an end of the current age and the beginning of a new age that is susposed to be much better. So no need to fret. Plan your Holiday parties without fear.

I remember the 2000 clock change scare. The crap the self called "experts" were writing at that time was just ridiculous to those truly knowledgable of computers, electronics, and embedded systems. So what happened? NOTHING. Just like this year as far as these doom and gloomers go.

I am hoping that there is a change for the better though. It would be nice and give us a reason to really party.

Vokda for me. Maybe spark some herbal "medicine" as well.
antialias_physorg
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2012
I'm wondering if this is US-specific.
Haven't seen that type of hype about doomsday stuff anywhere else (the last overhyped thing I remember was the "Y2k bug" ...but not in a 'doomsdy' kind of way. Just in a "maybe your computer will need to be reinstalled tomorrow"-way)
Sean_W
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 23, 2012
"These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government,"
Yet they are looking for confirmation from a government scientist?
Sean_W
2.2 / 5 (12) Oct 23, 2012
In two words: "Critical Thinking." Some people are good at it, and some are not. Those who are not are still motivated, many by the need for attention. The media (both traditional media an eMedia) attract people who crave attention, and it is no secret that sensational claims attract attention.
They make sensational claims to get attention, and uncritical thinkers pay attention.


There would be a lot more people who are good at critical thinking if they actually taught it in schools. Schools consider it to be an unnecessary expense and they assume it is like language; people will pick it up on their own. Unfortunately, like language, people pick up the bare minimum on their own and rarely figure out how to construct or criticize an argument. No one is interested in this changing since a population which can reason well is harder to advertise to, pander to, broadcast to, etc.
Sean_W
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 23, 2012
And don't forget that many of us sometimes promote the doomsday Maya stuff just to troll the world. It is nice to have stupid beliefs with an expiry date on them to make people more sceptical of all the open ended stupid beliefs.
VendicarD
4 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2012
No one here realizes that the world did end in 2,000.

Welcome to hell.
tonche
5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2012
Dec 2012 occured sometime last year....
2000 years ago we added leap years to our calender...
Cave_Man
1.7 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2012
Dec 2012 occured sometime last year....
2000 years ago we added leap years to our calender...

I think even the simplest crazy person would compensate for that using fairly simple conversions of a calendar based on 13,000 year intervals to our current system. More accurately it is the Winter Solstice of a particular year.

It probably means nothing more than the rare alignment of earth with the plane of our galaxy or maybe even within just our solar system. It is scary to think that 90 percent of stars out there are not single stars. The long orbit brown dwarf theory is pretty scary in reality.

The Mayan's were pretty good astronomers, they calculate dates out accurately to 10's of thousands of years.

But then again I am simple crazy person who likes tin foil hats, therefore it must be aliens manipulating the whole thing.
Lurker2358
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2012
I'm wondering if this is US-specific.
Haven't seen that type of hype about doomsday stuff anywhere else (the last overhyped thing I remember was the "Y2k bug" ...but not in a 'doomsdy' kind of way. Just in a "maybe your computer will need to be reinstalled tomorrow"-way)


Tabloids, which I never read, are found in every grocery store register line, and they are constantly having doomsday prophecies from one source or another as being the cover story.
dan42day
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 23, 2012
For some estimated 150,000 - 300,000 people, Dec 21, 2012 will be the end of the world. That's how many people die on any given day around the world.
theskepticalpsychic
3.2 / 5 (6) Oct 24, 2012
Has it occurred to anybody that the fear people are feeling right now derives from living under the threat of atomic war for the past 80 years? I remember the Cuban missile crisis. I was 11. I remember suddenly realizing that the world really could end before my 12th birthday. That kind of trauma does not just go away; it roots itself deep into the unconscious. The New Age doomsday prophecy stuff is derived from Christian myth, which itself is derived from pagan myth. The world has ended, or very nearly, for our species, many times. The Black Death claimed half of the population of Europe. To a nonliterate person who probably did not travel more than 20 miles from the home village in a lifetime, the devastation of plagues and wars and weather upheavals really did seem as though the whole world was ending.And nowadays, a lot of us are simply tired. Deep down, some of us want the world to end, so we can rest.
demonztration
5 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2012
It's called entertainment and the sensation driven media lives by it. Now when shee.. erhm. I mean people who learned to read with some holy book, also learned not to question anything they read (because "it's been written"), they will surely get confused full of fears after reading the yellow papers..
EBENEZR
2 / 5 (8) Oct 24, 2012
I honestly cannot fathom the mindset that hears people connect the Mayan Long Count with the destruction of the world and then DOESN'T look into the gossip for themselves. Surely something of such proportion would deserve a little personal investigation? At which point they'd learn that the two are in fact not connected.

Just more evidence (if ever it was needed) that people prefer to talk about things rather than do anything.
Anda
5 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2012
Yeah, in two months I'll stop reading dumb comments... Would be nice :)
antialias_physorg
1.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2012
I honestly cannot fathom the mindset that hears people connect the Mayan Long Count with the destruction of the world and then DOESN'T look into the gossip for themselves.

People will do what is easiest.
If someone has an underlying dread of things then believing that this is due to a world-ending scenario is very easy (it's also psychologicaly beneficial because that person can stop questioning whether THEY have a problem but just go and and state that their feeling is a manifestation of something real/external to them. Which turns the 'problem' neatly into a 'superpower')

I do think thescepticalpsychic is on to something as living in a constant state of (media generated) fear only leads to heightened susceptibility to such a world view.
I certainly had such a view growing up in a country which would have been ground zero in any nuclear exchange.
freethinking
1 / 5 (10) Oct 24, 2012
Doomsday. Honest Discussion and Answers please. (no crazed sockpuppets knocking anyone down!)

Environmentalist Progressives always seem to preach some sort of doom. AGW, GM crops, silent spring, etc. and etc.
Conservatives generally preach hope.

To those that I talk about Dec 22, those that believe it generally are Progressives. Those who laugh at it generally Conservatives.

The question I have is 1. do more progressives believe in Dec 22 doomsday, and 2. could the belief of doomsday be BECAUSE of Environmentalist Progressives constantly predicting doom?
EBENEZR
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 24, 2012
Can you clarify? "Progressives" and "Conservatives", are you being a religious spectrum into this, because both groups can fall into both camps.

For the record, those who could be considered "conservative" are the ones who have predicted the end of the world the most.
TrinityComplex
5 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2012
@freethinking, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with that. Check out the list of people who have made predictions at the wikipedia article I listed earlier (http://en.wikiped...e_world) and you'll see that the predictors lie all across the spectrum. From personal experience I an tell you it doesn't matter, people can be paranoid regardless of religion, political affiliation, or intelligence.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Oct 24, 2012
Thanks for the link. Boy, is it weird to read all of those in one go. Whenever you think the prediction could not get any nuttier the next one one-ups the previous ones (and Jesus seems to be stuck in a revolving door).
rubberman
1.3 / 5 (6) Oct 24, 2012
I am still trying to picture Tadchems party....If all of us who usually post here were there...a world ending brawl migh actually ensue....unless A2G brought enough "herbal medicine" to calm everybody down....I'd still go.
deatopmg
1.4 / 5 (11) Oct 25, 2012
you can add the CO2 doomsters predictions for the year 2100, based on guesswork, very faulty models and of course "homogenized" (i.e. adjusted to fit the paradigm) data to the list of doomsday scenarios. So, unlike this Mayan and Y2K silliness, 2100 is 4 generations away so we'll all be long gone so no one will remember the perpetrators of this AGW myth.
PeterD
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 25, 2012
Fear sells, and idiots believe nonsense.
DavidW
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 26, 2012
Truth and life save the world. They were always required to get us this far. They are what save us now. They, and only they, ever will.

We must come to terms with those facts, as none of us will ever change them.

Anything less and we are ignoring self-evident truthful reality.

ccr5Delta32
1.1 / 5 (7) Oct 27, 2012
Look Now ! there's not much time left and my advice is " that neighbor ,the one you always had the hots for . Go for it , ya got noting to loose , Oh ! by the way if you see an some guy looking to buy some astronomical equipment , looks a bit odd ,like Einstein's hairdresser odd .Just give him all your money .
Screw_the_Pooch
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 28, 2012
Fear of something always makes good conversation, especially if it's on some far off date that's coming closer and closer. The closer it comes for some people, the more apprehensive they become, even if their fear is groundless. Pity how the gullible are taken in so easily by the 2012 silliness and most can't even be bothered to research the facts.
Oysteroid
1 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2012
the last overhyped thing I remember was the "Y2k bug" ...but not in a 'doomsdy' kind of way. Just in a "maybe your computer will need to be reinstalled tomorrow"-way)

Overhyped? Could it turn out to be "ovethyped" because hundreds of programmers worked to make it so?

I'm one of those and, in my small way, helped to handle it. So let me give you the inside scoop at how it was: At the time, I worked (as an in-house software developer) for a mid-sized financial company. Just in the nick of time they recalled that one of their legacy systems might be vulnerable to that "bug" and pulled a couple of programmers off other things to have a look.

A quick check discovered that 1. That system think that all dates in Jan 2000 belong to the year 1900 - and calculates the interest accordingly. 2. Refuses point-blank to recognise the February 29th (doesn't believe it's a leap year).

Well, we've managed to find a work- around for January issue but, for the 29th, we had to give up....
Oysteroid
1 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2012
cont. ... and the management decided to just tell the clerks that, for one day, they'll have to write the contracts by hand.

Do you could say that the Y2K bug did win for at least one day against at least one company... but we beat it for the 31 days in January :-)

So much for the overhyped. Not a doomsday that one, nope. But while working on that one, I remember sincerily hoping that others are also working on transportation systems, power systems, medicals...
Oysteroid
1 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2012
I remember the 2000 clock change scare. The crap the self called "experts" were writing at that time was just ridiculous to those truly knowledgable of computers, electronics, and embedded systems. So what happened? NOTHING.

So A2G, addressing you now, it appears you are not after all as knowledgable of computers and such as you seem to think.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Oct 29, 2012
So let me give you the inside scoop at how it was:

Being a programmer myself (and also having reworked a software package to fix a Y2K bug) I know it was real. But it was something we (and probably every other company in the world that relies on software) saw coming so we took steps to remedy the situation.

Yes, there was a problem. But there was no real reason for a panic.

Everyone just had a look and fixed what needed fixing (Well, except that Argentinian canned fish factory that threw their newly canned fish away, because 2000 was treated like 1900 - i.e. the software thought all the cans arriving in storage were long past their sell-by date)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.